FRANK N. PHELPS. - One of the most energetic and progressive business men of Kansas City, Missouri, Frank N. Phelps, treasurer of the Phelps Stone and Supply Company, of which he was practically the originator, has contributed appreciably towards the advancement of the industrial interests of this section of Wyandotte county, and won for himself an assured position in business circles. The only living son of the late James Carlin Turner Phelps, he was born December 10, 1857, in Polo, Ogle county, Illinois, of pioneer ancestry. His grandfather, John Phelps, married, March 14, 1816, in Tennessee, Sarah Rogan Carlin, and in 1819 moved with his family to Illinois, becoming one of the original householders of Oregon, Ogle county, and an important factor in its settlement.
Born at Lebanon, Tennessee, June 17, 1818, James C. T. Phelps was but a year old when his parents located in Illinois. He grew up amid pioneer scenes and was a grown man before he had any educational advantages. At that time Governor Ford, then a young attorney but afterward governor of the state, became an inmate of the Phelps household, and during the long winter evenings taught James the fundamental studies and conditions of the day. When twenty-five years old, or thereabouts, James C. T. Phelps began life on his own account, forming a partnership with his brother-in-law and opening a general store in Polo, Illinois, becoming head of the firm of Phelps & Johnson. Succeeding even beyond their most sanguine expectations, this interprising firm subsequently established and operated many other business propositions, among others opening three stores in Texas, and at Austin they owned a very fine business block, Mr. Johnston having charge of the stores in the south, while the senior partner superintended the management of those in the north, having his headquarters in Polo. The firm also had other interests of importance, carrying on banking and operating large grain elevators in Illinois. During the thirty years this company was in business it accumulated extensive holdings in town and city property and in wild lands, and on the dissolution of the firm each member received property of great value. On retiring from mercantile pursuits, he was persuaded by his son, Frank N. Phelps, to move to Kansas City, Missouri, to live, and in the beautiful twenty thousand dollar home which he built on Graystone Heights he spent his last days, passing away December 24, 1895. Fraternally he stood high in the Masonic order, and in his religious beliefs he was a Unitarian.
James C. T. Phelps married December 21, 1847, Anna E. Swingley, who was born in Maryland, a daughter of Captain Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Sharer) Swingley, and to them ten children were born. The death of the mother of these children occurred January 17, 1896, and both she and her husband are buried in Kansas City, Missouri, in that beautiful "city of the dead," Elmwood Cemetery.
Having obtained his elementary education in the public schools of Ogle county, Illinois, Frank N. Phelps continued his studies at the Rock River Seminary, in Mount Morris, Illinois, after which he studied pharmacy at Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended the School of Mines, although, on account of his health, he did not complete the course. A year or two after attaining his majority, he planned to embark in business with his father, and the two prospected in different parts of the west, seeking a favorable location, finally deciding to settle in Wellington, Kansas. Unable, however, to make satisfactory arrangements in regard to renting a business place, the son proceeded in the fall of 1880, to Kansas City, Missouri, where he located permanently. Mr. Phelps soon followed. On coming to this city Frank N. Phelps bought a half interest in a shoe factory, becoming head of the firm of Phelps & Hahn. A year later, on June 17, 1882, a disasterous cyclone swept through this part of the country and completely wiped away his manufacturing plant. The firm made another brave start, but soon after sold all of its machinery and equipments to a Fort Leavenworth shoe manufacturer.
Mr. Phelps then embarked in the wholesale fruit and commission business in Kansas City, Missouri, for two years being associated with the firm of Blossom & Phelps. Selling out then, he was for a year in the produce commission business as senior member of the firm of Phelps & Smeltzer, selling out at the end of twelve months to his partner, who later acquired fame as the "Celery King" of the great west. Mr. Phelps was afterward engaged in handling real estate and all kinds of tax securities, carrying on a substantial business until after the death of his parents.
Mr. Phelps having originated the idea of forming a stone and supply company, formed a corporation with his five sisters, Mrs. Ella L. Fridley, Mrs. Effie L. Hoover, Mrs. Ada C. Cushing, Mrs. Anna M. Wood and Mrs. Gertrude P. Hunie, and Mr. B. C. Beed, the only person outside of the Phelps family, and was instrumental in organizing the Phelps Stone & Supply Company, locating the plant at the state line, near Rosedale. The company was incorporated September 22, 1904, with a capital of $45,000, which has since been increased to $67,000, the officers being as follows: Frank K. Hoover, president; W. E. Cushing, vice president and secretary; Frank N. Phelps, treasurer; and Harry J. Nicholas, of whom a brief sketch appears elsewhere in this volume, manager.
This company at first bought thirteen and one-half acres of land on the hill adjoining the Dietz Hill, the place being now known as Graystone Heights, but adjacent land has since been purchased, its acreage now being twenty-one acres. An extensive and profitable business has been built up by the company, its crushing stone plant having a capacity of three hundred cubic yards per day, and its actual output for the year 1910 was, approximately, forty thousand cubic yards of crushed stone, which was delivered as per contract. In carrying on this work the firm employs on an average forty teams and forty-five men at the plant, the business being transacted at the office, which is located on the property.
The part of the country in which Mr. Phelps lives was formerly the happy hunting ground of the Indians, the tribe of Wyandots, thousands in numbers having their villages, made of tepees, on the present site of the village of Kansas City, Kansas. A short distance from the home of Mr. Phelps, on the hill lying on the Kansas City, Missouri, line, the American Fur Trading Company located its post, having a stockade and a log fort. It was illegal to sell liquor to the Indians, but ways were then found, even as now, to evade the law, a post being set in the ground and on that a pole was so inverted that it would revolve. The Indian desirous of obtaining liquor would tie his skins on one end of the pole, while the traders tied the liquor to the other end, and as the pole swung around the articles were exchanged. In excavating for the Phelps residence the workmen found the grave of an old Indian chief, who had been buried there, surrounded by his implements of war.
Many years ago James C. T. Phelps purchased a stock of goods in his native home state, Illinois, took them down the Mississippi and up the Missouri river to Weston, Missouri, which was a great stocking place for the prairie schooner trains taking loads of emigrants overland to the California gold fields. He made money in the venture, but did not return with a second stock. For many generations this branch of the Phelps family has been prominent wherever located. As a pioneer of northern Illinois, John Phelps, grandfather of Frank N., did much towards the settlement of Ogle county, and had the distinction of having laid out the beautiful little city of Oregon. The family is an old and honored one, a genealogical record published within a few years giving its history back to the eleventh century.
Frank N. Phelps married, in Logan, Iowa, September 8, 1897, Eleanor W. Wood, who was born in Magnolia, Iowa, a daughter of John and Eliza (Hopkins) Wood. Mr. and Mrs. Phelps have one child, Frank N. Phelps, Jr., whose birth occurred March 22, 1906.
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